SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – History is being made every day, including here at Sheppard AFB.
One need not look any further than the Center for Seabees and Facilities Engineering Detachment here as the long-time joint partner is experiencing a first. Detachment Commander Lt. j.g. Gayle Gauck and Senior Chief Petty Officer Malinda Hernandez, senior enlisted leader, have broken the proverbial glass ceiling as the first women to serve in those capacities at the same time, and Hernandez is the first female to service as the SEL. Gauck, a prior-enlisted Seabee, is the second female to serve as the detachment’s leader.
“As far as making history, you never think that about yourself,” Hernandez said. “It’s just kind of like I’m just doing my job the best I can. So, we definitely aren’t in it for that, but I think it’s cool nonetheless.”
This isn’t the first time the duo has been at Sheppard at the same time. They were two of three females in a class of about 150 sailors, Hernandez recalled.
“I first came through here in 2005 as a student right out of boot camp and there were three students, female students, to include myself,” she said. “None of the staff here was women so it was just us three students.”
Considering the history of the renowned construction battalion, it is not surprising that there are still many “firsts” to be accomplished by women in the Seabee community.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. could no longer safely use civilian construction workers because they could not resist enemy military attack. The Seabees were established in January 1952 when Rear Adm. Ben Moreell received authority to recruit men from the construction trades to be assigned to a Naval Construction Regiment composed of three Naval Construction Battalions. The renowned name was derived from the initial letters of Construction Battalion.
While women had been serving in the Civil Engineer Corps as Reservists and assistants since 1942, the Seabees did not have any females among its ranks until Camella Jones became the first female enlisted Seabee in 1972. Jones trained into the Seabees as an equipment operator shortly after the Chief of Naval Operations issued Z-gram 116, which authorized limited entry of women into all enlisted ratings.
After Jones, many other women served in Amphibious Construction Battalions, but women were barred from serving in Mobile Construction Battalions until the 1994 National Defense Authorization Act, which finally allowed women to be legally assigned to surface combat ships and mobile construction battalions.
Since then, the small number of women in the Seabee community, like Gauck and Hernandez, have shown women can do the same jobs, meet combat-ready requirements, and lead forces and battalions just as effectively and efficiently as their male colleagues. However, the number of women who serve as Seabees is still low.
“Most of the females we saw in battalion were on the fleet side of the Navy, not necessarily in the Seabee community,” Gauck said.
History alone is not the only cause of a low number of women who join and stay in for a military career. Other than the career field being male dominated, motherhood is also a unique challenge that women have to face.
“…we’re both moms and wives,” Gauck said. “Historically, I think for all the armed forces, the perception is that once our female enlisted or even officers become moms, it’s a different ball game.”
Gauck went on to say she wants to be the kind of leader that shows it is possible to do both. She hopes that by seeing her journey, more sailors will see they do not have to choose a military career or a family.
For the two Sailors leading this new generation of Seabees, it’s not about male or female or getting to be the first or even the recognition. It’s about leading and getting the job done, wherever they may be.